BAKER, W.Va. — East Hardy’s last two football losses have come at Wheeling Island Stadium in the Class A state championship game.
The 2015 62-0 title game setback to Magnolia was followed by a 10-0 regular season in 2016 and three playoff wins, putting the Cougars back in the title game.
The second time around was a much different game — but the same, heartbreaking result — a 23-8 championship loss to St. Marys.
“Man, that was tough,” said East Hardy coach Chad Williams. “That was a lot worse than the first one. When you lose 62-0, there’s not much you could’ve done. But (last year) was tough and took probably three or four months to get over. I was (recently) talking with St. Marys coach Jodi Mote and there’s a very good chance we could see each other again this year.
“We were a little bit closer – we’ve been getting a little bit closer every year,” Williams continued. “We’ve been building it for seven years now. We just came up short. But we have a great group coming back and we’re really excited about this year.
While the Cougars do return a bulk of talent overall, the most glaring loss to graduation will be quarterback Corey McDonald who threw for 2,965 yards and 38 touchdowns, while adding another 1,065 rushing yards and 17 more scores on the ground.
Senior Clay Skovron, who threw for 120 yards on eight completions a year ago in a backup role, will take over for McDonald at quarterback.
“Corey (McDonald) is going to be tough to replace. He was a three year starting quarterback for us and one of the best athletes in school history,” Williams said. “Clay (Skovron) actually throws the ball a little better than Corey. He doesn’t run quite as well (as McDonald), but he is a better passer. He’s a natural born leader and I think we’re going to be fine there.”
The biggest concern for Williams is along the offensive line where the Cougars lost four of five starters. Senior running back Phillip Mullin returns after rushing for 1,567 yards and 26 touchdowns as a junior.
At receiver, Brett Tharp returns for his senior season after finishing 2016 with 55 catches for 1,195 yards and 16 touchdowns. Jeffrey Mills, Aden Funkhouser and Chance Dove are a few of that guys that will provide more depth at receiver as well.
“At the skill positions, we’re fine,” Williams said. “But we do have a lot to replace along the offensive line where two of those guys went on to play college football.”
It’s a similar mix of experience and turnover defensively for the Cougars.
“We return the entire secondary, so we feel really good about that,” Williams said. “Clay (Skovron) is going to play linebacker and quarterback – I’ve never had a kid do that. But he’s started at middle linebacker the last couple of years and he’s going to step in there again.
“(Phillip) Mullin is also returning at linebacker,” he continued. “Again, the area of concern is upfront. We lost everyone upfront. As long as we can find some guys to replace those hogs upfront, we’re probably going to be better than we were last year.”
The Cougars open up the 2017 season at home against Harrison Central (OH). After a Week 2 matchup against Class AA Frankfort, East Hardy will host Wheeling Central in a game that will likely be one of Class A’s early regular season marquee matchups.
“We had three playoff wins in all of our school history, prior to this decade,” Williams said. “To what we’ve done this decade, we’re really happy about where things are going.
“Our schedule this year is beefed up to the level that a state championship-level program is planning,” he added. “That Wheeling Central game in Week 3 will probably be a big game with some statewide ramifications.”
2017 Football Schedule
|1||08/26/17||07:00PM||H –||HARRISON CENTRAL, OH H.S.||–|
|3||09/08/17||07:00PM||H –||WHEELING CENTRAL CATHOLIC||–|
|4||09/15/17||07:00PM||H –||POCAHONTAS COUNTY||–|
|5||09/22/17||07:00PM||A –||SOUTHERN GARRETT, MD H.S.||–|
|6||09/29/17||07:00PM||A –||PENDLETON COUNTY||–|
|7||10/06/17||07:30PM||H –||TUCKER COUNTY||–|
|10||10/27/17||07:00PM||H –||SOUTH HARRISON||–|
|wins: 0 lost: 0 ties: 0|